A Brandywine Christmas is a treasured holiday tradition at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, spanning almost five decades. Each year, visitors of all ages come to enjoy the Musuem decked out for the holidays, including the thousands of whimsical “Critter” ornaments displayed throughout the Museum and on towering trees soaring up through the three-story atrium.
Brandywine Critters are a unique tradition dating back to the Museum’s founding. These delightful, distinctive ornaments are handcrafted by volunteers using only natural materials such as teasel, pine cones, acorns, egg shells, flowers and seed pods.
Critter “ingredients” are collected and grown throughout the year with teasel being a main ingredient found in most Critters due to its easily sculpted and sturdy frame. For those who don’t know, teasel (or Dipsacus sylvestris) is found throughout the mid-Atlantic region in dry conditions, often in roadside patches.
With the aid of glue, tweezers and a lot of imagination, volunteers work year-round crafting Critters to decorate the Museum and sell to the public. Critters come in all shapes and sizes, from small animals—like reindeer, owls, bunnies, dogs—to elaborate and unique scenes featuring musicians, carolers, bicyclists and kayakers.
The inspiration for the Critters came soon after the Museum’s opening in 1971 when the late George A. “Frolic” Weymouth, founder and chairman of the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art, asked two volunteers to decorate a “natural Christmas tree” for the Museum’s first holiday display that would complement the work of the Brandywine Conservancy. Natural materials were gathered in their raw state for decorating the tree.
The second year, additional volunteers were inspired to use natural materials to craft tiny Critter ornaments. The Critters grew in popularity—and size—and in 1984, Brandywine was asked to decorate the main Christmas tree at the White House. Over 3,000 Critter ornaments were created to decorate the White House Christmas tree, catapulting the Critters onto a national stage.
Since then, the Critter-maker team has grown to 130 volunteers, producing over 10,000 ornaments each year to display and sell at the annual Critter Sale on the first weekend of December. Proceeds benefit the Brandywine Volunteers’ Art Purchase Fund and Art Education and Programming, with more than $1.3 million raised to date.
Do you need a Critter for your tree?
If You Go:
Where: Brandywine River Museum of Art, 1 Hoffman’s Mill Rd., Chadds Ford
When: Critter Sale, Nov. 30, 5 to 9 p.m. & Dec. 1–3, 9:30 to 5 p.m.
Also available in the gift shop, through Jan. 7, 2018
Museum Hours: 9:30 to 5 (except Christmas)
Critter Pricing: $5 to $35, with specialty items, $50 to $250